Despite God’s clearly detailed plan for the Israelite nation, the Israelite people rarely lived up to their calling. Not many generations after they were established in the land, they asked Samuel, the prophet and judge, to appoint a king to lead their nation, “such as all the other nations have” (1 Sam. 8:5, NIV).
Read 1 Samuel 8:10-18. What was Samuel’s warning to the people in response to their request for a king?
Samuel recognized this as a step toward being like the other nations in other ways, as well. While Samuel sought to counsel the first king, Saul, it was not long before his prophecy began to become reality. Even at the height of the Israelite kingdom, David and Solomon did not escape the temptations, corruption, and excesses of their power.
Throughout the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah, one of God’s responses was to send prophets to speak His will and to remind the Israelite leaders and people of their God-given responsibilities to the forgotten members of their society.
In the writings of the Hebrew prophets, we see a continuing and recurring call to live justly and to do justice in society. Confronting the unfaithfulness of Israel and its leaders, the prophets were a regular and urgent voice for the voiceless, particularly those who were hurt by Israel’s failure to follow God’s will.
Reflecting on the passion of the Old Testament prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel contrasts our complacency with their urgent calls for justice: “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world … Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria. We ourselves witness continually acts of injustice, manifestations of hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage, misery, but we rarely grow indignant or overly excited. To the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions”. – The Prophets (New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), pp. 3, 4.
What these prophets offer us is an insight into the heart and mind of God. Speaking on behalf of God, they can help us see the injustice and suffering of our world through God’s tear-filled eyes. But this passion is also a call to action, to work with God to relieve and remedy the oppression and sorrow of those around us.
How do we sometimes seek to be like “all the other nations” in ways that might be harmful to us and others?